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Dispute over transfer boards: Keheliya’s word final – Prime Minister

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Contradictory statements over Temple Trees talks

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A simmering battle between the health ministry and the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) over the recent controversial change of the system that had been in place with regard to post-intern appointments has taken a new turn with Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa declaring that the final decision on such matters should be taken by Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

PM Rajapaksa said so at the end of a meeting at Temple Trees on Tuesday morning (04) attended by Minister Rambukwella and GMOA President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

PM Rajapaksa’s Office yesterday (05) morning quoted him as having told the meeting that the final decision was the prerogative of the Health Minister. According to the statement issued under the hand of PM’s Media Secretary Rohan Weliwita, Minister Rambukwella has told Premier Rajapaksa that the newly introduced system couldn’t be changed. Having ruled out further talks meant to restore the discarded system, Minister Rambukwella has said that he was prepared to discuss issues at hand pertaining to the newly introduced system. The Minister was reacting to the GMOA requesting the restoration of the discarded system.

Minister Rambukwella challenged the GMOA over the latter’s accusations regarding him interfering in administrative decisions.

Yesterday’s press release further quoted Premier Rajapaksa as having said that some issues couldn’t be resolved through discussions.

Top GMOA spokesperson Dr. Samantha Ananda yesterday told The Island that the Premier’s Office called the meeting on a request made by them. The meeting that commenced at 10 am ended close to noon with the health ministry and the GMOA unable to reach consensus on the issue at hand.

Yesterday’s press release issued by the PM’s Office following strong interventions by the health ministry was the third that dealt with the Temple Trees meeting.

On Tuesday, the PM’s Office released two statements also under the hand of Rohan Weliwita.

Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa has asserted that the change of the system that had been in place with regard to post-intern appointments will cause disputes.

The Premier has advised all stakeholders to reach a consensus whether to retain the same system inclusive of medical transfer boards.

Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday night (4) quoted him as having instructed Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena to settle differences through consultations.

In the first statement, Premier Rajapaksa was quoted as having reproached health ministry officials over the unilateral change of the system. Premier Rajapaksa has told health ministry officials not to pursue political agenda at the expense of the government but to deal with trade unions in terms of the establishment of code.

Among those who had been present at the meeting were health minister Keheliya Rambukwella, Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Dr. S.H. Munasinghe, Secretary to the National Salaries Commission Chandrani Senaratne, DGHS Dr. Asela Gunawardena and President of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya.

Dr. Padeniya has requested the ministry to treat Administrative Medical Officers (Medical Administrative Grade) equally without them being divided into two sections namely Senior Medical Administrative Grade and Junior Medical Administrative Grade. Asked for clarification, Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe also of the GMOA said that the GMOA believed the two sections should be combined.

The GMOA has sought the intervention of Premier Rajapaksa after having accused the health ministry of failing to address the grievances of doctors. In a statement issued on Dec 28, 2021, the GMOA explained the difficulties experienced by three categories of doctors in service, namely (1) Grade Medical Officers (2) Specialist Medical Officers and (3) Administrative Medical Officers.

The GMOA resorted to trade union action from Dec 21 to 24 demanding that the government address seven major issues.

The GMOA, in a statement that dealt with the Temple Trees meeting said that the outfit was compelled to strike due to unilateral actions of Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. G. Wijesuriya. According to the GMOA statement issued by its Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando, Premier Rajapaksa has directed DGHS Dr. Gunawardena to restore the abolished system in which transfer boards played a significant role.

The GMOA said that Premier Rajapaksa also directed the DGHS to establish an independent committee that would be tasked to inquire into the irregularities caused by the changes made to the Medical Administrative Grade at the behest of the then health Minister Rajitha Senaratne and his wife, Dr. Sujatha Senaratne. The GMOA used the opportunity to explain how Dr. Seneratne’s unilateral interventions caused problems for the Medical Administrative Grade and resulted in overall deterioration of the services and working conditions.



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Booster shots: Poor public response makes GMOA contemplate legal remedy

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Lack of enthusiasm among the public to receive the booster dose was disconcerting, given that Sri Lanka had a long-established and highly functional immunisation programme, the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

By 20 January 2022, 64.56% of Sri Lankans had been fully vaccinated, but only 22.47% had received the booster dose, the GMOA said.

“At the early stages of vaccination against Covid-19 the public response was favourable. However, the current waning of interest might be driven by the myths and rumours regarding the vaccines. It is important to take measures to counter such misinformation by raising public awareness of the ongoing vaccination programme.”

“Legal action against those responsible for the spread of communicable diseases can be taken under the Penal Code”, GMOA Secretary Dr. Senal Fernando said. “Provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance can be used against persons who do not comply with directions given by the proper authorities under the Quarantine Ordinance,” he said.

The GMOA said that several countries had made it mandatory to have proof of vaccination for entry into public places. The same thing could be done in Sri Lanka to ensure that more people got vaccinated.

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Govt., SJB haggle over procedure to rescue country

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By Saman Indrajith

The SJB on Sunday said that it was wrong for the President and the government to seek the assistance of the Opposition to steer the country out of the present crises without creating a proper forum to obtain such assistance.

Addressing the media at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivering the latter’s third Policy Speech in Parliament last week had sought the assistance of the Opposition. “His speech is full of excuses. He sought our assistance but there is no forum to offer our assistance. The government too has asked for the same several times. If the government needs the Opposition’s assistance, what it should do is to declare a state of national disaster situation so that the Opposition could make use of Parliament as the forum for our contributions. That has not been done so far. The President and the government could make use of the provisions of the Disaster Management Act No 53 of 2005 to form a disaster management committee comprising the government and opposition MPs.

The President is the ex-officio Chairman of the committee, the Prime minister and the Opposition leader are there with 24 government ministers and five opposition MPs. In addition to that there are provisions to the involvement of the Chief Ministers of Provinces in the committee. If the government genuinely needs our support it should have started forming that committee. There are laws enabling the formulation of mechanisms to help people the government does not make use of them. We have been repeatedly asking the government to appoint that committee.

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Lord Ahamad plants kumbuk tree sapling during visit to Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary

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By Ifham Nizam

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for South Asia, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of the UK, planted a Kumbuk (Terminalia arjuna) sapling at the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary last week.

The Department of Wildlife said Lord Ahmad had been joined by the British High Commissioner in Colombo Sarah Hulton, Hasanthi Urugodwatte Dissanayake, Acting Additional Secretary of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry, Saman Liyanagama, Wildlife Ranger of the Colombo Wildlife Range, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Professor Sevvandi Jayakoddy, Senior Lecturer of the Wayamba University.

The planting activity was followed by a brief visit to the wetland and Prof. Jayakoddy, and Liyanagama explained the importance of wetland ecosystems as well as challenges in conservation and maintenance, while Dissanayake briefed him on the Sri Lanka’s pioneering work related to mangrove restoration and conservation, both at policy level as well as at the ground level.

Hasini Sarathchandra, Publicity Officer, Department of Wildlife Conservation said British High Commission in Colombo with the International Water Management Institute Headquartered in Sri Lanka, had already launched a project under the Darwin Initiative at the Baddegana Wetlands.  Similar collaborations are envisaged involving the Bellanwila – Attidiya Bird Sanctuary.

Wetlands play an important role in our natural environment. They mitigate the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. Colombo is a city built on and around wetlands. Despite progressive loss and degradation, wetlands still cover some 200 km2 of the Colombo metropolitan area and suburbs.

The wetlands are fundamental to the well-being of the people of Colombo and its suburbs. The wetlands can reduce extreme air temperatures and make the city more live able due to evaporative cooling. The wetlands provide a critical land-mass which helps to maintain the richness of Colombo’s biodiversity.

The Bellanwila-Attidiya wetlands was declared as a bird sanctuary on 25 July 1990, due to biodiversity of the area and its contribution to controlling floods. The wetlands, which span over 930 acres, host endemic species and is a paradise for migratory birds. 44 species of fish including 06 which are endemic to the country have been identified in the Bolgoda River which flows through the wetlands. The wetlands are also home to 21 reptilian species, 17 species of mammals and 10 butterfly species. Bellanwia-Attidiya sanctuary falls within the upper catchment of the Bolgoda river basin. The Department of Wildlife Conservation manages the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary.

Selection of the location was also due to the close collaboration that Sri Lanka has with the Government of the UK on conservation of mangroves and wetlands.

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